Punctuality: Thief of Time

27 08 2008

He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.” (Oscar Wilde)

Those of you who know me best know that I am habitually late. Despite my best intentions to be on time, to be timely, to be timely and one time, I am not ever timely. Nor am I apt to be on time. Once, as I was passing through the living room from the front door on the way to the kitchen, I caught a Dr. Phil show in which a young woman was being confronted by her friends for her gross disregard for all things time and timeliness. She barely made it to the show on time as a result of her missing the flight to the-city-whose-name-escapes-me-where-Dr. Phil’s-show-is-taped-in-front-of-a-live-studio-audience. Dr. Phil, in his notoriously didactic preacher-man style, used this young woman to illustrate the act of “running late” as one that is purely selfish. The young women laughed it off as a petty crime (as I have done many times myself). But Dr. Phil was insistent: You are selfish! According to Dr. Phil, If you are chronically late then you have no consideration for others, especially those who are waiting, waiting, checking their watches, expecting you to show up, hoping against hope, waiting––on you. Er, me. 

I would argue that I am no more selfish than any punctual specimen. However, I will admit to being ish-y  when it comes to all things time. I have yet to find a way to see my commitments as exact points in time. I am an –ish person. I may not be at work by 7:30, but you can be sure that I will make it by 7:30ish. 

This ishness is experienced as an insurmountable wall separating me from society. I cannot pretend to an a priori knowledge of time. If I were to posit myself within the spacetime continuum, I might be found near the edge of the speed of light with my fingernails dug into the lip of the black hole. If I could just swing my other arm up and out against the strain of the laws of physics, the Kate Spade calendar chirping  of appointments and to-do lists aligned neatly beside crisp depictions of watering cans and galoshes. If I could just claw my way out from under the unopened bills, the receipts, the bank statements, the ungraded papers, the graded papers to be filed, the files to be discarded, the phone numbers scribbled on the back of the Starbucks sleeve found in the backseat of my car. If I could just, if I could only, then I might be able to meet you for coffee this afternoon around 3:00. Let’s call it 3-ish.

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6 responses

31 08 2008
Kate

Beautifully written, Whitney!

8 09 2008
mariegauthier

O Whitney, I’m keening, keening, to hear this.

I will not belabor the subject, only let me suggest this:

when one leaves others waiting, perhaps, perhaps, one is a thief of their time?

9 09 2008
Whitney Wood

“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” – Evelyn Waugh
As a true isher (from way back) this makes me feel a bit better.

13 09 2008
wlr

Marie: I wasn’t really trying to make a case for tardiness… I was merely ruminating (rambling?) about my fascination with tardiness and timeliness and how people who are always late never understand people who are always on time and vice versa. Strange, no? As hard as I try to be on time, I can never sustain a lifestyle that is punctual and tidy. Once in a while, yes. Daily? uh-uh. (That is not to say that I am not ashamed of this aspect of my personality. I was late for a meeting this morning and was keening the whole way there.)

Whit: I’m glad I have made you feel better if only through my affirmation of suffering from a common affliction.

14 09 2008
mariegauthier

That’s okay, Whitney. I actually think 10-15 min late is totally acceptable. “ish” is one thing. But I have a friend who never appears before an hour after the agreed-upon time, minimum. And a co-worker who is never never late for personal appts, must must leave work on time, and yet is daily late by 35-50 mins. So if I sounded particularly overwrought, mea maxima culpa, I was projecting… 🙂

17 09 2008
John Pennisi

Do you count your students tardy? Just curious.

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